BuzzFeed is terrible. Probably not entirely; their tech section publishes interesting (if authorially bland) features, and they’ll also put out some worthwhile longform first-person stuff. For the most part, though, their content is defined by an endless of series of mindless lists predicated on the idea that remembering something is the same as having a feeling, and that pointing out a piece of trivia to a reader is the same as making an insight for them.
Recently, though, BuzzFeed relaunched their Community section, which allows users to create accounts and post articles that are identical to BuzzFeed-created content. This is a canny business move on their part, since it means they can pad their site with content they didn’t pay for but still reap benefits from traffic, ad impressions, and so on. (This is also another reason they are terrible.) Last week, something in me snapped and I decided to create a user account and upload my own BuzzFeed lists. I didn’t know what shape they’d take; I just knew that I wanted to do something to comment on how inane the site is.
So I did. I’d seen Joe Veix’s attack post and knew that BuzzFeed wasn’t wild about content that mocked their own empire (and Kaleb Horton’s amazing piece), but I just didn’t care. I wanted to see what it was like to post ridiculous, stupid content that went in a variety of directions. At first I posted some surreal, more mocking pieces (like 6 Rocks That Totally Rock!! and 7 Sure Signs You Grew Up in Texas), meant to highlight the total obviousness and emptiness of BuzzFeed’s lists. Their content relies on recognition and cheap nostalgia, and their goal is to trick you into believing that “I remember that thing” and “I am entertained” are the same emotion.
Then, weirdly, one of the posts got some traction. Not a lot; this was not something that was taking the Internet by storm. But it generated more traffic and referrals than the others. It was called 13 Benedict Cumberbatch GIFs That Are All The Same, and I wrote it to point out how easy it is to assemble .gif lists that rely on nothing more than familiarity with TV stars or pop culture. There’s zero insight required to make these. Zero. That’s the whole sad point. I was kind of stunned that it took off, especially when some of the comments reflected a split between people who got it and people who just really wanted to see pictures of Benedict Cumberbatch, context be damned.
I posted some more throughout the week. Some were weird and some were plain and some were sad, but all were designed to puncture the expectations people bring to BuzzFeed content. Also: You’ll be amazed what people will click on if you format the headline properly and attach it to a BuzzFeed URL. I could’ve done these lists on my own site or somewhere else and not brought in a fraction of the content. Yes, there’s the appeal of seeing an anti-BuzzFeed list actually published on BuzzFeed, but at this point, most people really are conditioned to just click and scroll. I’m no different.
I’ll probably post some more. The archive is here. I don’t really know how many I’ll wind up doing. It’s fun to put them together, to show just how empty the site is, but it’s also overwhelming to realize that these dozen posts are nothing next to the fire hose of mindless clickbait that BuzzFeed publishes every day. There’s no way to beat them, at least not with jokes like these. I think the only way is to just look for something else, and to try and be entertained in newer/older ways.